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Football

WILLIAMS: Great offense or bad defense in the Big 12?

AMES — On my way up to Paul Rhoads’ weekly press conference this week, I was listening to some random sports talk radio. On this particular program, the college football pundits were not impressed with what they have seen from defenses so far this season in the Big 12.  

Their opinion was that a lack of quality defense is the reason why Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU (ironically the three teams ISU has played in its recent losing streak) are the top three ranked offenses in college football.

This take is anything but fresh. In fact, it’s ancient. But we hear this annually and it will occur more often the closer we get to the second installment of the College Football Playoff.

In the modern era of the sport, these programs (specifically Baylor and Texas Tech) have traditionally put up gaudy offensive numbers. That is what these air-raid type of offenses are designed to do. In the case of Tech, we’ve seen that it doesn’t always translate to a ton of wins either. But they still put up the yards.

We’re not talking about two tight end sets here, folks. Watch how spread out the Baylor wide receivers are tomorrow. It is unlike anything anybody else around college football is even attempting to do. 

What Baylor (admittedly against an incredibly soft schedule so far) has been able to do offensively this season is straight up ridiculous. The Bears, who Iowa State will meet at 11 a.m. on Saturday (on ESPN), are averaging 720 yards of offense per game – 96 yards per game more than second place Texas Tech.

The Bears are balanced too, averaging 371 yards per game via the pass and 348 on the ground.

Baylor has scored 60 points or more in five straight games, which ties the NCAA record that was set by Oklahoma in 2008.

This is a team that is averaging .79 points per play, 33 first downs per game and the Bears have only punted 12 times this season.

And last but not least, Baylor has a wide receiver named Corey Coleman (below) who through six games has tied his school’s receiving touchdown record (16) and is averaging just over 21 yards per reception. 

Come on, man.

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Ask the question

Paul Rhoads is a bright defensive guy who is coaching in an offensive dominated league. He is the perfect guy to pose this question to: Is the Big 12 full of bad defenses or just really good offense?

That’s exactly what I asked Iowa State’s head coach on Monday and his in-depth response made a ton of sense.

“A big difference when it gets to bowl time and playoff time is having time to prepare,” Rhoads said. “Preparing for these teams on a week basis with what they bring and trying to get your kids ready as opposed to having three weeks to a month’s time to prepare for them. Could the numbers be potentially different vs. other people, in the postseason, sure they could. But playing them as your football team gets tired or injured with only a week to prepare is a whole different thing. These offenses are that good and it has little to do with the defensive personnel or coaching minds or things like that. It’s the offenses, the talent and what they are getting accomplished.”

As the month of November nears, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are the only Big 12 defenses ranked in the top 20 nationally (total yards). It’s no surprise to me that neither one of those teams have played Baylor, TCU or Texas Tech either. When those teams meet the teeth of the conference (when it comes to offenses), their defensive numbers will drop. That is a stone-cold lock.

This brings me to a Twitter conversation that I got into with another Cyclone earlier this week. It was all spurred by a tweet from former Iowa State offensive coordinator and now Houston head coach Tom Herman.

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This was my response to Herman’s stat.

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I a couple of people accused me of saying that Houston couldn’t compete in the Big 12, which wasn’t my point at all. I absolutely think that over time, Houston could compete in the Big 12. They think so, seeing that Houston has been trying to politic its way into the Big 12 for years.

My opinion: Houston could compete (not for a championship) in the Big 12 right now. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Houston isn’t TCU but it has many luxuries that with time under the right leadership, could turn itself into a power program nationally. 

But if Houston was going toe-to-toe with these types of offenses on a weekly basis, would its total defensive rank really be that high? Hell no. The answer is no.

For what it’s worth, Houston, who is ranked 39th nationally in total defense, has played Tennessee Tech, Texas State, Louisville, Tulsa, SMU and Tulane (The 130th ranked schedule in America to date acording to the Sagarin ratings. For the sake of comparison, Iowa State’s schedule is ranked 10th.)

The Big 12 is an extreme case because of the number of programs that play this style of football within it.

Elsewhere nationally, the Pac-12 has teams like Oregon and Arizona. Memphis is doing some great work over in the American. But the Big 12 is the only league where you are essentially facing a different style of spread on a week-to-week basis – some are obviously much better than others.

“In certain leagues, that style hasn’t necessarily clicked for them,” Rhoads said. 

Iowa State’s defense hasn’t been that bad

This is the case for every game except Texas Tech, of course.  

In five of Iowa State’s six games this season (Texas Tech being the outlier), the Cyclones have held the opposition below its scoring average.  

I wouldn’t even bring that stat up if it were happening against slouches but when you consider that three of those teams (Iowa, Toledo and TCU) are still undefeated, it’s somewhat impressive.

“Why are you being so hard on the offense?”

A friend asked me that this week and I think the above answers that question.

This is an offensive league that has miraculously developed over even the last five years. In the modern day Big 12, defenses can only do so much. To win, you have to be able to score. Iowa State is averaging 26.8 points per game — ranked 81st nationally. 

Regardless of defense, that isn’t good enough to win games in the Big 12. 

Baylor’s best

This is Baylor’s third-straight 6-0 start but make no mistake about it, this is the best team that Art Briles has ever had in Waco.

Never before has Briles, one of the brightest offensive minds in history, had two guys (Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman) on his defensive front who will likely be top 10 NFL Draft picks this spring.

On both sides of the ball, these Bears are PHYSICAL. 

With lopsided wins over SMU, Lamar, Rice, Texas Tech, Kansas and West Virginia, the Bears have yet to be tested. Being that they are a 37-point favorite over the Cyclones, this will likely be the case again tomorrow.

But Baylor’s final five weeks of the season are brutal: At Kansas State, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU and at home vs. Texas.

Is this Baylor team a national title contender? I think so. But we will find out soon enough because after this week, Briles’ Bears are about to run the Big 12 gauntlet.

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